BANGKOK >> Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened martial law-style enforcement of a monthlong coronavirus lockdown in the main northern region of the country as violations of the quarantine soared.
Duterte said he would order the military and police to strictly enforce social distancing and curfews if compliance does not improve. Police said they have accosted about 120,000 quarantine violators since last month, including people who engaged in cockfighting and drinking sprees.
“The police and military will enforce social distancing and curfews. They will. It’s like martial law. You choose. I don’t like it,” Duterte said in a late-night speech Thursday.
Duterte, who took office in mid-2016, has already drawn concern about potential human rights violations for his anti-drug crackdown in which thousands of mostly poor drug suspects have been killed.
Some local officials have taken enforcement of his coronavirus lockdown to extremes, including a village guard who locked five drunken curfew violators in a dog cage and others who paraded violators to shame them in public or made them sit under the scorching sun for hours.
The Philippines has reported 5,878 infections, among the highest in Southeast Asia, including 387 deaths.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— WUHAN DEATHS RE-COUNTED: The city where the pandemic began in late December added 1,290 deaths to its toll. Wuhan officials were quoted in state media as saying the deaths were initially missed because the city’s health system was overwhelmed at the outbreak’s peak. The revised Wuhan figures raised China’s death toll to 4,632, up from 3,342.
— CHINA ACCUSES U.S. OF SHIFTING BLAME: China is accusing the U.S. of attempting to shift the focus from its own shortcomings in dealing with the coronavirus by spreading a theory that the pandemic was started by a pathogen that escaped from a Chinese laboratory. “Anyone discerning can tell at a glance that the purpose of the U.S. is simply to confuse the public, divert attention and shirk responsibility,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing on Friday. “We have said many times that tracing of the virus’ origin is a serious scientific issue and requires scientific and professional assessment.” U.S. officials including President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have suggested the lab theory may be valid, without presenting evidence. Zhao earlier speculated on Twitter that the virus was brought to Wuhan by the U.S. military,
— CHINA’S ECONOMY TUMBLES: China suffered its worst economic contraction since at least the 1970s, and weak consumer spending and factory activity suggest it faces a longer, harder recovery than expected. The world’s second-largest economy shrank 6.8% last quarter after factories, shops and travel were closed to contain the virus.
— HUNGER, NOT COVID: India’s poorest are suffering under the world’s largest lockdown. The virus could ravage the country, given low testing rates, a barely functional health system and its densely packed population of 1.3 billion, leaving a vast lockdown the least bad option. But the weeks without daily wages are an eternity for people at risk of losing their homes and going hungry.
— CHINA URGED TO BE TRANSPARENT: An Australian government minister is urging China to be transparent about the origins of the coronavirus and predicted the world will rethink relations with it because of the pandemic. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton recently recovered from the virus, which he apparently contracted during a trip to Washington, D.C. Dutton told Nine Network on Friday: “I do think there will be a reset about the way in which the world interacts with China. We do want more transparency.”
— SINGAPORE CASES SPIKE: Singapore reported 623 new virus cases on Friday, pushing its total infections to 5,050. The increase was broadly expected after testing was increased among foreign workers. The health ministry said foreign workers accounted for most of the new cases, with clusters reported in dormitories crowded with workers who use shared toilets, kitchens and other facilities. The government has quarantined workers in their dorms and moved others to reduce crowding.
— INDONESIAN RECOVERIES EXCEED DEATHS: Indonesia says more people have now recovered than have died from the coronavirus. The Health Ministry announced Friday that 607 people have recovered while 520 have died. Indonesia has the highest number of fatalities in Asia after China. The country’s case count rose 407, its biggest daily jump, bringing its total to 5,923.
— SOUTH KOREAN JOB LOSSES: South Korea lost nearly 200,000 jobs in March as the coronavirus shocks its economy and labor markets. Statistics Korea said the 195,000 jobs lost was the largest monthly decline since May 2009 during a global financial crisis. The country has confirmed 10,635 virus cases and 230 deaths. Friday’s 22 new cases was the fifth straight daily increase in the 20s. No new cases were reported in the hardest-hit city of Daegu, where infections have waned. The impact of Wednesday’s national parliamentary elections, which had the highest turnout in nearly 30 years despite the coronavirus, will take a week or two to assess.
— MORE PATIENTS TEST POSITIVE AGAIN: South Korea says it’s continuing to see a rise in patients who test positive for the coronavirus for a second time after being diagnosed as recovered. But it says the risk of transmissions from such cases so far appears to be low. The country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at least 163 people have tested positive again after their initial release from hospitals, or more than 2% of the country’s 7,829 recoveries. It said that none of the patients was in serious condition although 61 were exhibiting mild symptoms. Health authorities are investigating the causes of such cases. They say it’s likely that infections were re-activated after remaining dormant in patients whose bodies hadn’t fully developed immunity after experiencing mild symptoms.